Personalized learning is one of the best ways to connect to such a diverse range of learners as the ones we teach today. It's one of the 10 shifts of practice of future-focused learning, and is a crucial consideration for achieving the highest levels of student engagement in our modern classrooms. Unfortunately, this approach makes teachers nervous sometimes. It seems daunting, having to individualize learning and instruction for such a large group of kids. Most often, teachers are just wondering if they’re getting personalized learning right at all.
If you’ve wondered this yourself, you’re definitely not alone. In an article from The Hechinger Report, Anthony Kim empathizes with the uncertainty educators can sometimes have about how well personalized learning is working:
“It is often hard both for the teacher in the classroom, as well as the leader or coach observing him or her, to understand if all of the essential components for personalized learning are in play and if what has been designed and planned for is actually being implemented.”
The question is, what should be happening with our learners if we’re getting personalized learning right? After all, it is them we must observe and be mindful of. How they are responding will give us a good baseline for determining how we’re doing with personalized learning.
It’s difficult to produce a set of universal guidelines for measuring the success of personalized learning since there are so many things you could observe. In an effort to make it simpler, here are just a few simple ways you can gauge how personalized learning is working with your learners.
They're Connecting to What Interests Them
Learning is a personal thing. For personalized learning to be effective, it should be connecting to your learners’ interests and talents. Here are some things to look at in a successful personalized learning environment:
- Are their project proposals based on their individual skills, talents, knowledge, and collected resources?
- Have they formulated their own guiding essential questions for the learning journey?
- Do they have their own milestones designated based on time/materials/team skills, etc.?
- Are they consulting with a community outside the classroom to help them with their projects?
In a personalized learning environment, learners walk the pathways you set out at their own pace. You design learning through targeted instruction and data that gives you insights into your learners’ different needs. That’s how you give them the freedom to perform tasks and connect to challenges using what is relevant to them.
They're Learning in Different Ways Using Different Tools
In personalized learning, kids are faced with a variety of pathways to developing projects, solving problems, and answering their essential questions. It’s never static and students are always interfacing with different stimuli to keep them growing. This is an apt description of what doing personalized learning right could potentially look like from Dreambox:
“The classroom can have different areas or stations based on needs and abilities to accommodate auditory, visual, and kinesthetic style learners. For example, some stations may support inquiry-based, independent learning; while there can be a separate area for group activities. Groups can be based on content, ability and assessment results.”
Ultimately, the personalized learning classroom isn’t a “one size fits all” layout like the traditional classroom. It’s built for exploration, interactivity, and messy learning. That said, a multi-station floor plan rife with the latest technology is obviously not a prerequisite for successful personalized learning. Indeed, many classrooms the world over have done much for their learners with far less. It’s all about how we use what we have available to us.
The main thing is maintaining the desire to learn.
If your learners are in a classroom environment that mixes it up a bit and keeps them excited and collaborative while developing real-world skills and knowledge, you’re doing just fine.
They Know Why They're Learning
Getting personalized learning right also means providing the learner with frequent opportunities for reflection and for applying feedback from mindful assessment. It gives them choices in developing their own relevant learning goals and taking on responsibility for their outcomes. It allows them freedom to produce real-world solutions and digital products using mediums they connect with. It keeps them collaborative and interactive with each other, and it encourages them to always be asking questions and achieving new goals.
All of this and more contributes to the learners having a fundamental understanding of why they are learning in the first place—to build essential skills that will prepare them for success in life outside of school.